Ollie M.J. Ray, whose career teaching in city public schools spanned nearly four decades, died Tuesday of heart failure at Northwest Hospital. She was 82.
"They say teachers are born, and Ollie had not only the native ability to be a teacher but also the desire," said Hayyte Jackson, who was a college friend and later a colleague in Baltimore public schools.
"She had a great love for children and young people, and wanted to see them receive their appropriate secular and Christian education," said Mrs. Jackson, who retired in 1993 from Windsor Hills Elementary School, where she had been principal.
"She had a deep and long-lasting love of education and teaching," said her daughter, Rhonda J. Ray of Owings Mills. "She knew from a young age she wanted to influence young lives and found great fulfillment being in the classroom."
The daughter of Frank Jones, a coal miner, and Mary Geddis Jones, Ollie Mae Jones was born in Maxwell, Pa.
Mrs. Ray was raised in Maxwell and attended Fayette County public schools before moving to Turners Station in the late 1940s, when she went to live with an aunt.
After graduating in 1949 from Sollers Point High School, she graduated in 1953 from what is now Bowie State University with a bachelor's degree in elementary education.
Always interested in improving her teaching skills, Mrs. Ray studied early childhood education at the Johns Hopkins and Towson universities, and in 1978 earned a master's degree in special education from what is now Coppin State University.
"When she started teaching in 1953, it was before Brown v. Board of Education, and her teaching certificate said she was qualified to teach in colored schools," her daughter said. "She began teaching the children of illiterate sharecroppers in a segregated school in Snow Hill."
In 1955, Mrs. Ray began teaching at Elementary School No. 129 at Ridgely Street near Barre Street. She later joined the faculty of Windsor Hills Elementary School, where she taught for many years.
Mrs. Ray taught kindergarten through third grade, and math and reading skills through sixth grade. She also served as a supervisor of student teachers.
"She declined numerous opportunities for administrative positions in the Baltimore City school system, choosing instead to remain in the classroom because she sincerely enjoyed teaching young children and was dedicated to their growth and achievement," her daughter said.
"She helped me plan my first bulletin board," recalled Mrs. Jackson. "She was ahead of me at college, and when I came to city schools, she already had two or three years of experience. We were blessed to be together."
At the time of her retirement in 1994, Mrs. Ray was teaching at Arlington Elementary School in Northwest Baltimore.
Mrs. Ray, a longtime Woodmoor resident, was a member of the National Sorority of Phi Delta Kappa Inc. and the Retired Teachers Association of Baltimore City Inc.
In addition to being friends, Mrs. Ray and Mrs. Jackson were members of the New Shiloh Baptist Church when they lived in Turners Station.
Mrs. Ray became a member of Concord Baptist Church in Gwynn Oak in 1975 when she and her husband moved.
There, Mrs. Ray was a youth counselor and senior matron, serving a term as president. She was also a member of the Courtesy Committee and taught Sunday school for many years.
"She was also active in the Women's Ministry and taught several adult classes at the church. When she retired from teaching in city schools, she continued teaching at Concord," said Mrs. Jackson, who also became a member of Concord.
"Ollie always demonstrated that she loved the Lord, her family and her church," said Mrs. Jackson. "She was a wonderful Christian woman."
An accomplished seamstress, Mrs. Ray designed and sewed outfits for herself and her daughter. She also created curtains, draperies and other items for her home.
She was also known for her "themed bulletin boards," her daughter said, that she created in her classroom and later at Concord Baptist Church.
"She also enjoyed cooking and baking and making meals for large family gatherings as well as delicious holiday cookies that delighted family and friends," her daughter said.
Her husband of 55 years, James R. Ray Sr., a longtime Park Circle Motor Co. salesman, died in 2013.
Funeral services will be held at 10 a.m. Monday at her church, 5204 Liberty Heights Ave.
In addition to her daughter, Mrs. Ray is survived by a son, James R. Ray Jr. of Powell, Ohio; three brothers, Donald Jones of Frederick, Frank Jones Jr. of Pittsburgh and Terry Jones of Houston; a sister, Daisy Baker of Dayton, Ohio: and a grandson.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun